Access to cable system spurs an Internet battle in Massachusetts

BOSTON: The debate over open access is heating up in Massachusetts, where two coalitions with similar names and very different stances are going head-to-head.

BOSTON: The debate over open access is heating up in Massachusetts, where two coalitions with similar names and very different stances are going head-to-head.

BOSTON: The debate over open access is heating up in Massachusetts,

where two coalitions with similar names and very different stances are

going head-to-head.



Goddard Claussen Porter Novelli, which represents AT&T and MediaOne, has

organized Consumers and Internet Providers for Technology Competition

(CIPTC), while the Consumer Choice and Competition coalition (CCC),

organized by J. Christopher Grace, a Boston venture capitalist who owns

a lot of America Online stock, is pushing a ballot initiative requiring

that all Internet service companies allow equal, open access to the

cable system.



Both parties, however, claim to be on the consumer’s side.



’When you have competition, it drives prices down,’ said CCC

spokesperson Stephen Allen. ’People ought to have choices for Internet

access.’ Allen added that without open access, people who connect to the

Internet through cable lines would have to ’click once and pay twice’

for using an ISP other than AT&T/MediaOne.



CIPTC spokesperson Maria Farrah John countered, ’We’re trying to get the

message out that this is not about open access,’ she said. ’There’s not

a groundswell of support for this. It’s one person’s financial interests

(J. Christopher Grace), and it’s going to cost consumers and taxpayers a

lot of money.’



The CCC coalition has gathered 105,000 signatures across the state,

70,000 of which have been certified. The bill is currently before the

legislature, which has until early May to decide whether to take no

action (which would mean the issue goes on the November ballot); vote it

down and possibly offer another alternative; or pass it.



In addition to gathering signatures, Allen said that his coalition has

also been speaking before groups and has made several TV

appearances.



’It’s early in the campaign, but because AT&T and MediaOne are spending

a lot of dollars, its getting a lot of notoriety,’ he explained.



As of December 31, both sides had raised and spent more than dollars 1.5

million, with AT&T spending dollars 1.1 million on ads and attempts to

remove it from the ballot. Grace donated dollars 600,000 from his own

portfolio. Before the issue is decided, it’s estimated that both sides

combined could spend more than dollars 10 million.



’AT&T and MediaOne will spend whatever it takes to stop competition,’

said Allen. ’I’ve never seen one company spend so much money to keep an

issue off the ballot.’



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